Rugby Rules and Regulations

What are the rules of rugby football? Beginners will find simplified explanations extracted from the official RFU Laws of rugby union.

Learning the basic rules of rugby union makes it easier to follow the game. It also makes it more enjoyable for fans and spectators to watch.

Rugby Union Laws 2022

Rugby Football Union (RFU for short) is a physical contact sport. The lively ball game is usually played outdoors on a grass pitch.

As a general rule, two opposing squads may have up to fifteen outfield players in each team. They are assigned individual playing positions with differing roles on the field.

You might be wondering:

The international pinnacle of the sport for most followers is the Rugby World Cup (RWC). It is a global knockout rugby union tournament held every four years where teams compete for the Webb Ellis Cup (a trophy).

Other popular rugby union tournaments include the southern hemisphere battle of the ‘Tri Nations’. It is a world famous rugby competition involving South Africa, New Zealand, and Australia.

The European Rugby Champions Cup is another big highlight in the game. But, the most recognised of all annual rugby competitions has to be the Guinness sponsored Six Nations Championship.

Rugby Union Aim of the Game

Rugby Rules and Regulations: Diagram Naming Rugby Union Equipment ListThe aim in rugby union rules games is to score more points than your opponents. You must achieve this in the allotted time frame (eighty minutes of normal play).

Players will run with the oval shaped ball, passing or kicking it up the field, in various ‘phases of play’.

But, they cannot pass the ball to another teammate as a forward motion.

Teams play within the RFU rules and rugby regulations. So, the opposing team will try to stop the attacking team from scoring points.

As a result, rugby players use several interception tactics and physical tackles to regain possession of the ball.

Starting a Rugby Union Match (kick-off)

The match referee tosses a coin to determine which team starts the game. Winning the toss allows the captain a choice of either starting the game or selecting the direction of play.

A place kick or drop kick bounced from the center of the halfway line commences play. The kicker must kick the ball in play and move it at least ten (10) metres forward. Failing to do so means the opposition receive the advantage of a halfway line-out or scrum.

Note: Don’t miss our comprehensive list of rules and regulations in sport (alphabetically from American Football to Yoga) in the master section.

Rugby Union Field Markings

Rugby union pitch markings divide the rectangular shaped ground (usually grass, sand, or clay) into three sections:

  • One main playing area (called the ‘field of play’) not exceeding 100 metres in length and not more than 70 metres wide.
  • Two individual dead ball areas (i.e. one ‘in-goal’ try scoring area at each end) that range between six (6) and twenty (20) metres long.

There must be an ‘H’ shaped goal post positioned at the centre of each goal line. The goal measurement between the two posts (uprights) should be 5.6 metres wide.

The goal posts and crossbar (measuring 3 metres from the ground to the top edge of the bar) must have a minimum height of 3.4 metres high.

Pitch Markings and Lines (solid and dashed)

  • Half-way line (solid)
  • 22-metre line
  • 10-metre line
  • Goal line
  • Dead-ball line and touch-in goal lines
  • Center spot with 0.5 metre intersection line (to restart the game after a try, penalty, or drop goal)
  • 5-metre line (dashed)

Pitches used for official competitions should have fourteen (14) posts with flags that measure at least 1.2 metres tall.

Rugby Ball Dimensions

The ball is egg-shaped (oval) measuring 280-300 millimetres in length. The circumference measures 740-770 millimetres and the diameter is 580-620 millimetres.

Most competition rugby balls are leather, or a suitable synthetic material, and weigh 410-460 grams. But, young players would usually use smaller and lighter balls – such as when playing Touch Rugby rules.

Rules for Rugby Union Players

Rugby union rules and regulations allow each team to have fifteen (15) outfield players. A total of seven (7) player substitutions can take place during the game.

Only players who have received treatment for an injury can return to the game once they have left the field.

A full squad comprises two groups of rugby playing positions and numbers. Team players and their roles include the ‘forwards’ (number 1 to 8) and the ‘backs’ (number 9 to 15).

Rugby Union: 8 Forward Player Positions

  • Hooker
  • Props (2)
  • Second Row (2)
  • Flankers (2)
  • Number Eight

Rugby Union: 7 Backs Positions

  • Scrum Half
  • Fly Half
  • Inside Centre
  • Outside Centre
  • Wingers (2)
  • Full Back

Rugby Players Equipment and Clothing

Each team player must wear the same coloured jersey with matching shorts and socks. Another section explains how rugby protective safety gear works and what is required during a match.

As a general rule, players should wear studded boots, head guards, gum shields, shoulder pads, and shin pads.

Note: The regulations of rugby union do not allow players to wear jewellery, gloves, shorts with padding sewn into them, or any item contaminated by blood.

General RFU Regulations in Rugby Union

Duration of a Rugby Union Game

  • After the referee’s whistle, rugby regulation games are broken down into two x 40 minute halves (plus time lost).
  • There is a mandatory ten (10) minute rest period taken between each half (maximum 15 minutes).
  • According to general rugby rules and regulations the matches do not always carry stoppage time. Generally, the game will end after 80 minutes of play.
  • Teams change ends and play from the opposite direction after the mid-way break period.
  • A match is considered as ‘drawn’ if both teams fail to score or score the same number of points in rugby union. In certain competitions, the game would get a period for playing extra time.

Note: Extra time is usually allowed for stoppages, such as in elite International Rugby Tournaments and in knockout competitions.

The referee will stop normal play if:

  • A player is fouled.
  • The ball goes out of play.
  • A player scores a try or drop goal.

Ball Possession and Movement

  • Players can carry the oval-shaped ball, pass it to each other, or kick it, in general play.
  • You can run while holding the ball. But, you cannot make a forward-pass (play the ball forwards).
  • Rugby regulations allow tackling, pushing, grabbing, or holding. Players use these techniques on the opposing ball carrier to try and take possession of the ball.
  • Tackling or obstructing any other player (other than the player with the ball) is against the rules and regulations in rugby UK.
  • Players may carry or kick the ball tactically an unlimited distance and in any direction. Despite giving away possession, kicking the ball forward often gains ground or avoids a tackle.
  • Carrying the ball in either hand (or in both hands) is within the rules in rugby union. However, unlike Aussie Rules Football, the ball should not be bounced in normal play.
  • Players usually head for the opposition’s goal-line area to attempt a point scoring opportunity. They do this using rugby regulation dummies, swerves, and legal moves of deception.

Note: Players make tackles by grabbing a hold of, and pulling, the opponent to the ground. But, a tackle will incur a foul if it takes place above shoulder height.

On-side and Off-side Rules

  • Team players should stay ‘on-side’ (i.e. behind the ball runner) during open play.
  • A penalty will be given for players caught in an ‘off-side’ position.
  • Any player on-side may take possession of the ball anywhere within the playing area.
  • The game is continuous unless a player breaks the rules or the ball goes outside the playing field.
  • Play restarts with a line-out if the ball goes outside the perimeter field markers. These markings are often called the touchlines.
  • All attacking players must remain behind the ball while it is active or they run the risk of being in an offside call.
  • Players who are not interfering with play can be in front of the ball. But they must get back behind the ball before they begin interfering with play.

Rugby Kicking Rules

  • Drop Goal:
    • Drop goals are not common ways to score in rugby union. But, kicking the ball half-volley between the goal posts and above the crossbar is a drop goal – and scores three points.
  • Rugby Conversion Rules:
    • A conversion follows a successful try. Your team gets two points for a successful kick through your opponent’s goalposts, above the crossbar. A successful conversion, penalty or kick at goal, only occurs if the player manages to kick the ball through the top section of the goal. If a player is unsuccessful, the ball is still in play until it crosses one of the playing fields boundaries.
  • Goal Kick:
    • A penalty kick or drop goal through the goal posts receives three (3) points. Any player may try a drop-goal kick attempt during open play.

Line Out Rules

  • A line out is called when the ball goes into touch. Up to seven (7) players from each team may take part in a line out.
  • A team player throws the ball back into play from the area where the ball crossed the touchline.
  • Two perpendicular lines of opposing players leap from the ground to try and catch the ball in the air as it’s thrown in from the touchline.
  • As the line out players compete for the ball, players can also be lifted or ‘hoisted’ off the ground to catch it after it has been thrown in.

Rucks and Mauls

  • Rugby union rules and regulations for rucking and mauling are sometimes confusing. They may appear as moments of disorganized chaos to beginners and the uninitiated.
  • A spontaneous knot of entangled players grapple with each other for the ball in a furious attempt to win possession.
  • During this contest, a ruck ensues when the ball is in contact with the ground.
  • Players try to win the advantage by uniting together and pushing back the opposing ‘ruckers’.
  • The main difference between rucking and mauling is the ball handling. The ball is off the ground during the mauls. It looks similar to a ruck as a group of players bound together charge forward grappling for the ball.
  • Even so, a maul should be a continuous movement and play gets stopped if the maul breaks down.
  • Rugby union regulations and rulings allow play advantages for the attacking team. It may occur when the conceding team gets penalized for rule breaking.
  • The referee decides whether the advantage benefits the opposing team or not. The official may award a scrum for a minor offence. But they will give a penalty kick for a serious offence if no advantage is gained from allowing play to continue.

The Scrummage

A rugby union scrum is a tangled pack of 16 players head down trying to win the ball with their strength and power. Rugby rules do not allow handling of the ball in scrums.

The ball enters the center of the scrum as eight forwards from each team lock together attempting to win possession with their legs and feet.

Fouls and Foul Play

Any player who commits an act of foul play will either receive a caution, a temporary suspension from the game, or a sending off.


  • Neither player may charge or push the other (except for shoulder-to-shoulder) when opponents are running for the ball.
  • A player in an offside position must not intentionally obstruct an opponent or interfere with play.
  • Players must not intentionally:
    • Prevent any opponent from tackling or attempting to tackle the ball-carrier.
    • Prevent an opponent from having the opportunity to play the ball (except by competing for possession).
  • A player with the ball must not intentionally run into an off-side team-mate as an attempt to obstruct the opposition.
  • Any time the ball is dead, players must not obstruct or interfere with an opponent.

Unfair Play

Players must not:

  • Intentionally infringe any law of the game (e.g. using an arm or a hand to knock, place, push, or throw the ball from the playing area).
  • Give grounds for the match officials to consider that an opponent has committed an infringement.
  • Waste time (the resulting sanction would be a free-kick).

Dangerous Play

  • Players must avoid doing anything that is reckless or endangers other players.
  • Players must not physically or verbally abuse anyone (includes any contact with the eye or eye area, biting, kicking, punching, or tripping).

Rugby Rules and Regulations for Scoring

Rugby scoring rules allow points for scoring by any of four different methods:

  • Rugby Union Try (5 points):
    • Players grounding the ball in the opponent’s dead ball area behind the goal posts score a ‘try’.
  • Conversion (2 bonus points):
    • Following a try, a conversion is a successful kick which passes between the upper posts and top crossbar on the goal.
  • Penalty Kick (3 points):
    • Penalty kicks can be awarded to a team if the opposing team causes a rules infringement.
  • Drop Goal (3 points):
    • Drop goals may be kicked after allowing the ball to fall from the hands providing the ball bounces beforehand.

Note: A short videographic explains more about the fundamentals of rugby union rules and regulations.

Rugby Union Referees and Officials

Competitive rules and regulations of rugby union say the game must have one referee and two touch judges (or assistant referees). There will be one touch judge positioned on each side of the field.

The role of the referee is to keep time, make regulatory decisions throughout the game, and control order on the field.

Two touch judges assist the referee with rules’ infringement decisions. They may notify the referee when players are ‘called’ for being out of playing boundaries.

Duties of a Rugby Referee (after a match)

  • A rugby referee will provide a written report about any player(s) who got sent off.
  • The referee will communicate the final score to both teams (and match organiser where applicable).

How to Win a Game of Rugby

The team that scores the greater number of points at full time shall be announced as the winner. Even so, it is possible for some games to end as a draw unless they are knockout competitions.

Rugby Union Rules in the News

Advanced Rugby Regulations 2022

Rules and Regulations of Rugby Union